Five reasons you should write if you have cancer

Five reasons you should write if you have cancer

I had been wanting to start a blog for several years when I was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2012. I was torn about it. Although I’ve always been a writer, and lord knows I have too much to say, I felt that I didn’t have a good theme or topic for a blog.

Once I was diagnosed I created a blog on Wordpress.com, not really sure what I was going to do with it. I just knew that I needed to write about my experiences. That blog led to my pitching a blog idea to ChicagoNow and developing this site.

Creating my first blog, and finding this blog community at ChicagoNow, complete with a community manager, Jimmy Greenfield, who facilitates and guides and listens and teaches, has been one of my best experiences since getting cancer. Actually, it’s been one of the best experiences of my life.

Even if you don’t join a blogging community, I urge to write about your experiences, and I’ve gathered five reasons why you should.

  1. People want to know how you’re doing, and it’s exhausting repeating the details over and over again. When I was initially diagnosed I reached out to people via Facebook, and for the first few weeks that was helpful. However, I needed a static place people could go to, and I needed to keep Facebook a place free of my cancer diagnosis. So, I started my first blog at Wordpress. For me, it was easy enough to do because I had fiddled around with the software before. I found working with all of design elements and details distracting, which gave me a break from the fear I was feeling. However, there are other, easier, sites established specifically for the purpose of keeping friends and family informed about your health. The one I’m most familiar with is Caringbridge, which is sponsored by a charitable organization. You can give folks your address and vet anyone before they have access. You can then post updates and photographs. There’s a space for people to leave comments. I’ve kept track of several friends’ health experiences through this site, and it is wonderful to be able to check in on them without bothering friends and family.
  2. Writing about your treatments and prognosis will help you understand them better. In my day job, I oversee Writing Across the Curriculum at Governors State University. One governing principle of WAC is that writing improves learning. If you write about physics or history, you’re likely to understand the complex ideas you’re learning better. I have found the same is true with my cancer experience. When I explain to others what’s going on, I’m aware of what I don’t fully understand and am better able to see how the parts fit together. This has helped me be a petter patient, and ask good questions of my doctor.
  3. Writing about your experiences helps you sift through them and organize them. It took me a while to understand that one of the biggest fears I had was financial. Working with insurance is exhausting and frustrating. When I was denied a second opinion by my insurance company, I was distraught. As I wrote about it, I was able to separate my concerns about my health (I needed a second opinion) from my concerns about money (cancer is expensive). This helped me make decisions and set priorities. Insurance companies can refuse to pay, but they can’t keep you from getting the care you need. Money and access are two different, and sometimes equally confounding, issues.
  4. Writing can help you reframe your experiences. If I’ve learned nothing else from the counseling I’ve been involved in since being diagnosed, it’s that I can reframe the way I see the world. I tend toward anxiety and depression to start with, and cancer tipped me over into the abyss. I have used my writing to help me develop more hopeful and joyful ways of dealing with my life. I have been able to find some answers and re-envision the life I’ve already lived. Because of my blog, I spent a year delving into mindfulness, which continues to enrich my daily life.
  5. Writing has given me a voice and an audience. I feel less alone. Some of the folks who read my blog comment below. Others participate on the Facebook page. A few have emailed. I can’t tell you how healing it is to know that I’m not alone and that what I’m feeling is shared by others. Sometimes I can express what others are feeling and it helps release some of their fear and loneliness. And, other times I can express my own fears and people reach out with encouragement. Writing and reading bring us together.

So, get out there and write. You don’t have to write for an audience, either. The writing can be just for you. If you have any questions about how to start a blog, let me know and I’ll share what I’ve learned.

Also, a reader and I are thinking about starting a writing group on Facebook. It will be a closed group and we’ll share writing in an encouraging and safe environment. If you’re interested, comment below or on Facebook or send an email. I’ll let you know as our plans evolve.

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